Last week, beekeepers all over Massachusetts and New Hampshire received three-pound packages of bees in the mail - typically one queen bee and approximately 12,000 drones and worker bees - from southern states like Georgia, Alabama and Texas in preparation for the start of beekeeping season.
"Once the bees are shipped, they get to you very efficiently," Gloucester beekeeper Hank McCarl, 66, said with a chuckle. "I have three packages of bees coming up from Georgia. I know I'll get a call as soon as they arrive at the post office to come pick them up. They are very happy to get the bees out of there right away."
And while the chilly temps and strong wind weren't ideal, last Saturday, beekeepers like Newbury resident Barbara Milhender successfully installed new bee colonies into backyard hives all across the region.
"Beekeeping is very addicting - and meditative. You have to be very still in mind and still in body," said Milhender, 57. "If you don't get into that mindset, you'll get stung. But if you're in tune with them, it's really fun to watch them do their respective jobs."
Essex County has long been a hotbed for beekeeping. Rev. Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth, who invented the first transportable beehive in the country in the early 1850s, was a pastor at the South Congregational Church in Andover at one point during his career.
Contemporary beekeepers, like Andover's David Meldrum, keep just one or two hives on their property. Others, like Hamilton resident Gretel Clark, will maintain as many as 30 hives in various locations around the county.
Beekeeping hobbyists are drawn to the potentially painful activity for a variety of reasons. Danvers resident Frank Herschede, 69, started keeping bees in 1995 to help pollinate his dwindling garden. West Newbury resident Jane Wild, 57, started keeping bees in 1991 to produce her own organic honey for cooking. And Middleton resident Alan Wilkins, 59, started keeping bees in 1987 to further his collection of animals, which include rabbits, swans and Hawaiian geese.
"I was interested in it from a scientific standpoint," said McCarl, who became a beekeeper five years ago. "I grew up as kid interested in anything that had to do with nature, whether it was insects, butterflies or snakes. And then I had children who were interested in those things, too. It's fascinating what a positive impact they have on an area. They're very helpful to people and crops and flowers and fruit trees."